At $50K, Sennheiser’s Orpheus are the world’s most expensive headphones

Related: Check out our hands on review of the Sennheiser Orpheus.

When it comes to high-end audio, hyperbole is the marketing department’s prime directive. But when Sennheiser claims it has made “the best headphones in the world,” the company is dead serious. And although we’ve seen nothing more than a short glimpse of these sparkling cups of of sonic glory, on specs alone, we’re inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. Introducing the Sennheiser Orpheus.

Named after the original Orpheus HE90 (which carried a $16,000 price tag back in the ’90s) the new Orpheus are a second coming of sorts, bundled with a hand-crafted amplification setup designed to complete a sonic system that surpasses everything that has come before it. The price for this outstanding engineering achievement: approximately $50,000, give or take. To put that into perspective, you’d have to purchase two of these top-tier WA 234 Mono headphone amps from Woo Audio, along with a pair of the Abyss 1266 Deluxe headphones — and then throw in a gently used Kia Optima — just to get close.

So what do you get for that staggeringly opulent sum? Enough features to knock the wind out of your average audiophile, positioning the Orpheus less as a pair of headphones and amp, and more as a totally new kind of listening system.

The Orpheus are assembled from over 6,000 individual components, from their ivory stand of Carrara marble, to gold vaporized ceramic electrodes, and plush leather cushions. The headphones boast electrostatic drivers, lauded for their stark clarity and lightning-fast transient response. The system’s power is produced in two stages, the first of which is a hybrid transistor/tube amp with 8 quartz-glass vacuum tubes that pop up from their marble base automatically when switched on. The marble stand is a nice aesthetic touch, but also allows for decoupling of the tubes to reduce structure-born noise.

The second amplification stage is built directly into each of the Orpheus’ earpieces, and takes the form of a patented “ultra-high impulse” amplifier system, aimed at circumventing any power loss that might occur on the way from the amplifier to the headphones via cabling. Sennheiser Portfolio Manager Audiophile Axel Grell claims that in traditional amplification systems of this sort, only about a third of the power generated is actually used to create sound.

“Our approach was therefore to amplify the alternating voltage to high voltages not at the beginning of the cable but at the point where it is really required,” said Grell, “directly at the gold-vaporised ceramic electrodes in the headphones themselves.” The company claims that puts the distance between power and driver at less than a centimeter. In order to prevent distortion, the amplification actually transitions from Class A power, to Class AB at certain frequencies, a distinction that leads Sennheiser  to call its system a “Cool Class A amplifier.”

The frequency range of the drivers, which measure a mere 2.4 micrometers thick, is claimed to extend from 8Hz-100kHz — eons beyond the human ear’s capacity to recognize sound. Sennheiser claims this allows for all sounds that do fall in the audible zone (from 20Hz to around 20kHz) to be virtually distortion free — total harmonic distortion is listed at .01 percent at 100 dB. The cables themselves are built from an eight-wire collection of oxygen-free copper coated with silver to provide optimum electrical conductivity, and sheathed in an insulating layer to ensure noise isolation.

Connection options for the Orpheus system includes both balanced and unbalanced sockets, a S/PDIF Optical input, and a USB port. Digital to Analog audio conversion is handled via an ESS Sabre ES9018 chip, with a total of eight internal DACs (four per channel) at a top resolution of 32bit/384kHz. The system also supports DSD signals, including 2.8MHz and 5.6MHz.

The Orpheus will launch in mid-2016 with a batch of 6,000, all hand-crafted in Germany (they ought to be at their staggering price point). Having designed the system for the highest performance possible in the genre, Sennheiser is confident that the outrageous price will translate to a sonic experience that is unparalleled.

“No other sound reproduction system in the world is able to deceive our senses like the Orpheus. It creates the absolutely perfect illusion of being directly immersed in the sound,” said Daniel Sennheiser.

We’ll be listening to the headphones at a special event next week in LA, so we’ll find out if that is indeed true soon enough.

Movies & TV

An Obi-Wan TV series? 10 things we’d love to see on Disney’s streaming service

While we know the upcoming Disney Plus streaming service will have tons of great content, we put together a wish list of projects from across Disney's properties we'd like to see on the service in the near future.
Home Theater

Throw away those EarPods -- we dug up the best headphones in every style

Trolling the internet for hours to find headphones is no way to live. Instead, leverage our expertise and experience to find the best headphones for you. Here are our favorites, with all the features you want.
Trash

The best noise-canceling headphones paint your music on a cleaner canvas

Drowning out the sound of babies, jet engines, and the outside world isn't as difficult as it seems. Here are the best noise-canceling headphones, whether you're concerned with style, comfort, or sound.
Trash

Block the outside world, tune into your own with the best in-ear headphones

Over-the-ear headphones offer top-flight sound, but they're not so easy to take along with you. If you're looking to upgrade your portable sound, check out our favorite in-ear headphones -- there's a model for every user and every budget.
Home Theater

Puro’s kids headphones don’t just sound great, they help prevent hearing damage

Puro Sound Labs' PuroQuiet headphones are a pair of noise-canceling over-ears that are designed for young listeners, allowing them to jam out to their favorite tunes, but limiting volume to avoid long-term hearing damage.
Movies & TV

Best new shows and movies to stream: Mid90s, BlacKkKlansman, and more

Need something to watch this weekend? Check out our list of the best new shows and movies to stream right now. On the list this week: Jonah Hill's Mid90s, vampire action movie Blade, and more.
Home Theater

Sony’s 2019 TV lineup includes a 98-inch 8K OLED that costs more than a Corvette

Sony's 2019 TV lineup is revealed, including 8K and 4K models ranging in size from 43- to 98-inches and in price from $650 to a number much, much larger. The models will be available between May and June.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Amazon Prime Video right now (April 2019)

Amazon Prime Video provides subscribers with access to a host of fantastic films, but sorting through the catalog can be a major undertaking. Luckily, we've done the work for you. Here are the best movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.
Home Theater

Google brings ad-supported YouTube Music to its Google Home speakers

Hot on the heels of Amazon's announcement that it's adding a free version of its Amazon Music service to Alexa-powered speakers, Google is adding a free, ad-supported version of YouTube Music to Google Home smart speakers.
Home Theater

Bowers & Wilkins’ Formation Suite is a stylish, high-end Sonos competitor

With high-end audio specs, and gorgeous designs, B&W's Formation Suite is the company's first foray into wireless home audio. Starting at $700, B&W hopes to outclass Sonos, by offering high-res audio and "perfect" synchronization.
Home Theater

These awesome A/V receivers will swarm you with surround sound at any budget

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to shopping for a receiver, so we assembled our favorites for 2019, at multiple price points and all loaded with features, from Dolby Atmos to 4K HDR and much more.
Home Theater

No car? SiriusXM’s $8 a month streaming plan has everything but Howard Stern

SiriusXM is stepping into the streaming music ring with an $8 per month plan designed specifically for people who get their music via smartphones and smart speakers. It doesn't work on SiriusXM radios, and Howard Stern is extra.
Movies & TV

Want to make Netflix browsing even easier? Try this useful trick

If you know exactly what category of film you're looking for on Netflix, you'll find this hack for the streaming service useful. It allows you to manually browse genres and subgenres of interest.